Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

March 2007

Dear Reader,

February certainly ended with a flurry of activity. The Telephone Justice Campaign scored a victory in the NYS Court of Appeals!  (see #11) The case will now be sent back to the Supreme Court, to rule on whether plaintiffs’ Constitutional claims state a cause of action. We have won this round! Congratulations to Rachel Meeropol for a wonderful job arguing on our behalf! (We will send you the court transcript if you want to pay for printing and postage on 25 pages.) Then on Feb 19, we learned that John Caher, former Albany Bureau Chief of the NY Law Journal, had moved on to become the Director of Public Information for the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services. John Caher encouraged many of us by reporting on the injustices of the parole board which we had been experiencing for so many years. We will miss his insightful articles, but we wish him all the best. (Several of his best articles are available on this website). Also in the news was a report that Governor Spitzer has taken what may be the first step in closing prisons and changing sentencing laws (#1). And he appointed a new head of Parole, George E. Alexander (#5). Many people who have been working hard for many years on criminal justice issues have his ear. We must take advantage of this opportunity. In this issue you will read about the ways in which several members of Prison Action Network are taking action. Let us support one another. One way is to gather signatures for the Work Release Petition attached. Another is to write our representatives when we are pleased with what they have done, as well as when we are unhappy. In every letter we can ask for something more. Let’s keep fanning those winds of change!


Articles:
1. CLOSING PRISONS - Governor proposes commission to study prison closing and changing sentencing law.

2. CRIMINAL JUSTICE IN THE SPITZER ERA - Brian Fischer, Robert Gangi, Michael Jacobson and Rev Vivian Nixon speak at panel discussion

3. FAMILY EMPOWERMENT DAY THINK TANK MEETINGS - People who want change are needed, to be part of a strategy meeting. Albany, Buffalo and NYC meetings are scheduled. YOU are invited.

4. LETTER TO ELIOT SPITZER'S TRANSITION TEAM - "Americans must realize that convicted felons are not incurably corrupt or violent, that they are as capable as anybody else of learning from their mistakes and appreciating the value of a stable social order."

5. PAROLE BOARD APPOINTEES - George B. Alexander has been nominated to serve as Chairman of the State Board of Parole and Chief Executive Officer of the New York State Division of Parole.

6. (PICS) POST INCARCERATION SYNDROME AND RELAPSE - a set of symptoms that are claimed to be present in many currently and recently released prisoners that are caused by being subjected to prolonged incarceration in environments of punishment with few opportunities for education, job training, or rehabilitation

7. REENFRANCHISEMENT CONVERSATION - "Restoration of voting is the KEY IDEA; the practical solution to all of the problems the public has "heard" about.."

8. SENATE BILLS PENDING - merit time bill that includes lifers; bill to provide for discharge from parole consideration, even for lifers; bill to allow formerly incarcerated people to get barbering and cosmetology licenses; bill that would give tax incentives to employers that hire the formerly incarcerated

9. THE SQUARE FETTER - "Malus Chronos, Lord Supreme..Of everything that binds, Sandman of sepulchral dreams, Lord of all archontic minds." Part 2 in a serialization.

10. SUPPORT MEETINGS - meet people who understand; in Albany, Buffalo, Poughkeepsie, and Schenectady

11. TELEPHONE JUSTICE CAMPAIGN WINS SECOND VICTORY! - Families win victory in court of appeals on prison telephone challenge

12. TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS - from Albany/Troy, Buffalo, Capital District; and through The Ride Board

13. WHAT WE NEED - "nothing of any lasting import was ever accomplished in any significant battle against systemic oppression without hard work, unity, dedication, struggle, sacrifice, and more hard work"

14. WORDS FROM INSIDE - “Sending Out Love! Builds Bridges.”



1. CLOSING PRISONS
Spitzer Seeks Panels to Study Prison Closings and Sentencing Laws
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE [excerpts from The New York Times article:]

ALBANY, Feb. 2 - Moving to reverse decades of expansion, Gov. Eliot Spitzer is proposing a commission to study closing some of New York State's dozens of prisons. ...Assistants to the governor said he would also create, through an executive order, a second commission to study changes to sentencing laws. Such measures have helped shrink inmate ranks in other states and could in New York, too. ...Mr. Spitzer hopes to replace the state-subsidized employment on which upstate New York depends with private-sector jobs and investment that could secure its future down the road. ...But a powerful alliance of upstate lawmakers and correction officers' unions guard their constituents' and members' state-financed jobs and are likely to resist any effort to downsize the system. ...Under current law, before the state can close a prison it must give a year's notice to employees, and officials are required to explore options for converting prisons to other uses, such as low-cost housing. "In response to lobbying from the local upstate towns and the correction officers' union, the Legislature has made it much more difficult for the executive to close prisons, even after a time of significant decline in the population," said Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, an advocacy group for inmates. Both Mr. Spitzer and his staff have also stressed that no closings are imminent and that the creation of the commission itself, which would be wrapped into the state budget, must still past muster with the Legislature.


2. "CRIMINAL JUSTICE IN THE SPITZER ERA"
A conference presented in the morning of February 15 by the Center for NY City Affairs, Milano The New School of Management and Urban Policy and The Correctional Association of NY - reported by Tana Agostini

Acting Commissioner Fischer gave a series of staggering statistics* interspersed with more personal commentary than party liners.  Most striking were his stated goals of increasing programming including education, his frank commentary that the majority of parole revocations (38% return in three years) are due to lack of support services for parolees and that his job, simply put, is to prepare inmates for release.  Also noteworthy was his specific reference to program creation for those with life without parole.  As the Superintendent of Sing Sing, Mr. Fischer ran one of the few maximum security prisons that provided higher education, in spite of Pataki's cutbacks, as well as alternative rehabilitation programs in art and music.  He stated his commitment to working with the Dept. of Mental Health to improve treatment for the mentally ill inmate population and referred to new initiatives that are underway on their behalf.  AC Fischer will be participating in the Commissions formed by Governor Spitzer to look into potential prison closures and alterative uses for such facilities, changes in sentencing laws, and a second look at work release as a transitional program.  His closing remarks were that safe and secure facilities for staff and inmates is his first responsibility but that his goal is to encourage a prison environment where new opportunities for inmates to develop new skills and interests can flourish. 

Bob Gangi, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, a non-profit organization dedicated to analyzing and recommending policy to the Department of Corrections, spoke nearly exclusively on his number one priority, the reinstatement of higher education, not only as a moral imperative but as a practical, financial, and common sense approach to reducing recidivism.  AC Fischer concurred and made the remark that while it is his goal to provide higher education, funding must exist to support it.  Michael Jacobson, Dir. of the Vera Institute of Justice, quoted figures to show that the money saved by closing prisons could support higher education without any increase in funding. Rev.Vivian Nixon, director of the College and Community Fellowship, also presented a slate of information and statistics that supported higher education for incarcerated persons and ultimately it was the theme of the day. Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry was unable to attend.
 
*Statistics that AC Fischer included were 63,500 inmates incarcerated today, down 8100 from 1999.  36,312 for violent crimes against people, 13,928 for drug offenses, and 8,000 have diagnosed mental health problems which is up 1,000 from 1999.  The average sentence is 75 months, the average time in prison for drug offenders is 31 months, almost half of inmates have been in prison before.  62% of all inmates come from the five boroughs of New York and the surrounding counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland. 48% of inmates entering the system today are Afro-American, 26% Hispanic and 24% are White.  Last year 26,000 inmates were released; research figures indicate that 38% return to state prison within three years.

(The following was added by Judith Brink:)
Jo Ann Page, President of the Fortune Society, was in the audience and mentioned several things that Governor Spitzer can do with a stroke of the pen**. 

Make Medicaid enrollment possible before release, so that there is no gap in medical coverage.  In many cases, Medicaid would be suspended upon incarceration, not terminated, and just prior to release it would be reinstated.

Provide mandatory government-issued ID immediately upon release.

Exempt indigent people from the fees they must pay for fines, fees, surcharges, etc. involved in their incarceration and parole.

Give the vote to parolees.

Require the NYS Dept of Health to monitor DOCS medical care. 

**(Perhaps we should use OUR pens to put pressure on him to do these things: Eliot Spitzer,State Capitol, Albany, NY 12224, 518-474-8390. For email, you can visit his website at www.state.ny.us/governor and click the 'Contact the Governor' link. For Information on Legislation: Session Information page at public.leginfo.state.ny.us).


3. FAMILY EMPOWERMENT DAY THINK TANK MEETINGS - HELP WANTED
People who want change are needed, to be part of a strategy meeting.

The Otisville Lifers have called for a number of Think Tank events around the state to begin planning for (or not...) FED3. These will be informal gatherings of interested people for the purpose of evaluating FED2 and deciding whether to move forward with another event of its kind. All who are interested may attend as many of the Think Tanks as desired, whether or not they attended either of the previous FEDs. Each Think Tank meeting will begin with a viewing of the FED2 documentary film produced by Melis Birder, and continue with an evaluation of FED2, a discussion of the need, or not, for another similar event (FED3), and if, where and when to have such a meeting.

Reports from all the meetings will be presented to the FED Core Group who will communicate the results through Building Bridges, and begin the planning stage of FED3 if there is sufficient interest in having another one.

An Albany Think Tank meeting has been scheduled for Monday March 19 at 7pm, at the Unitarian Church, 405 Washington Ave. Please contact Judith at 518/ 482 2029 or prisonaction@hotmail.comfor more info or to register.

A Buffalo Think Tank Meeting will take place Saturday, March 3, 2:00-4:00pm, 103 Fernhill Avenue. Please contact Karima at 716-834-8438 or karimatells@yahoo.com.

A New York City meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, March15 at 5:30 pm at a place to be announced. Please contact Sonny at 516 673-4106 or 347 543-0433 or drudertsonny@yahoo.com for details and to register.


4. LETTER TO ELIOT SPITZER'S TRANSITION TEAM
I have contact with remarkable men who have spent years, even decades reflecting on the serious crimes that led to their confinement, who have come to terms with anger and learned to fully acknowledge the implications of what they did. These men are highly civilized.  They have attained a degree of self-knowledge that those of us on the outside rarely come to, and a patience that reflects extraordinary self-discipline.  These are the men who lead inmate organizations, counseling younger prisoners on alternatives to violence, parenting from inside, and other crucially important issues. Once released they have a tremendous amount to offer society.

Americans must realize that convicted felons are not incurably corrupt or violent, that they are as capable as anybody else of learning from their mistakes and appreciating the value of a stable social order.  As responsible workers, as teachers and counselors to youth at risk, as survivors of a potentially soul-destroying experience, they can be a precious resource.  But again and again I hear of model prisoners, men admired by all, who are turned down by parole boards without anything like an adequate hearing -- and turned down not just once but three, four, even five times.  Understandably these men, for all their strength of character, are at risk of succumbing once again to the cynicism and anger that are part of the air inmates breathe.

This must stop!  Parole boards must be instructed to inform themselves fully about the characters and prison histories of the men they evaluate, not just their crimes. They must offer prospective parolees clear criteria for release, and encourage them by showing that meeting these criteria produces real results. Above all they need to recognize that bad men can become good men, and that keeping a good man down does no good to anybody.

---written by a DOCS volunteer


5. PAROLE BOARD APPOINTEES
Former governor Pataki appointed 6 new members to the Parole Board in June of 2006. Jennifer Arena, lacking the required credentials for the post*, has the shortest appointment of those, expiring in June of 2008.

In 2007, 5 members will reach the end of their terms: Guy R. Vizzie, Jr., on Feb 6, Livio Lazzari on May 4, William Crowe and Robert Dennison on August 31, and George C. Johnson on Dec. 31.

So far we have heard of only one Spitzer appointee: George B. Alexander has been nominated to serve as Chairman of the State Board of Parole** and Chief Executive Officer of the New York State Division of Parole.

Mr. Alexander currently serves as Director and Commissioner of the Erie County Department of Probation and Youth Detention Services.  From 1993 to 2000, he served as Deputy Director in the Parole Violation Unit at the New York State Division of Parole. Prior to that, Mr. Alexander was a Senior Parole Officer and a Parole Revocation Specialist. Mr. Alexander received his B.A. from Buffalo State College.   

As Chairman of the State Board of Parole and Chief Executive Officer of the New York State Division of Parole, Mr. Alexander's annual salary will be $120,800.     

*259-b (2) stipulates a 4 yr college degree, and least 5 years of experience in one or more of the fields of criminology, administration of criminal justice, law enforcement, sociology, law, social work, corrections, psychology, psychiatry or medicine.

**What puzzles the editor is how Gov Spitzer can appoint someone to replace the current chairman, Robert Dennison, when his term does not expire until August 31? The only explanation that makes sense is that Mr. Dennison will remain on the board until August; Mr. Alexander will replace Guy Vizzi, whose term expired in February, and will become Chairman when Dennison leaves. Does anyone know if that’s correct?


6. (PICS) POST INCARCERATION SYNDROME AND RELAPSE
Terence T. Gorski [6147 Deltona Blvd., Spring Hill, FL 34606, 708 799 5000, www.tgorski.com] specializes in relapse prevention, managing chemically dependent offenders, and developing community-based teams for managing the problems of alcohol, drugs, violence, and crime. He has created a psychological diagnosis of PICS to identify a set of symptoms that he claims are present in many currently and recently released prisoners and are caused by being subjected to prolonged incarceration in environments of punishment with few opportunities for education, job training, or rehabilitation. He says, "since PICS is created by criminal justice system policy and programming in our well intentioned but misguided attempt to stop crime, the epidemic can be prevented and public safety protected by changing the public policies that call for incarcerating more people for longer periods of time, for less severe offenses, in more punitive environments that emphasize the use of solitary confinement, and eliminate or severely restrict prisoner access to educational, vocational, and rehabilitation programs while incarcerated. He recommends implementing policies that:

1. fund the training and expansion of community based addiction and mental health programs;
2. expand the role of drug and mental health courts that promote treatment alternatives to incarceration;
3. convert 80% of our correctional facilities into rehabilitation programs;
4. eliminate required long mandated minimum sentences;
5. institute universal prerelease programs for all offenders;
6. assure access to publicly funded programs for addiction and mental health treatment upon release.

--Information contributed by Chauncy V. Ramos.


7. REENFRANCHISEMENT CONVERSATION
The following is copied from a series of letters to Building Bridges from James Morse, who is arguing that NY reformers should unite behind the issue of re-enfranchisement, and that working for parole reform is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. We invite your input to this conversation.

When the prison system becomes too big to control, "miscarriages of justice" are more or less routine. Justice preys upon weaker citizens to the point of producing the preconditions (recidivism, etc.) for its continued existence. The only solution for this problem is more democracy, that is, more political freedom for all citizens. Hence, the re-enfranchisement of prisoners. When the government chooses the electorate, as the case is now, there's less democracy for everyone. Re-enfranchisement means more democracy for everyone - - before it's too late.

The enlightened prison reformer discerns that it's now time to present a comprehensive and practical solution for public debate. Restoration of our voting rights is the KEY unifying idea whose time has come. Guys in here agree that restoration of our voting rights would change conditions over night -- literally. It's a no-brainer. Even publicly debating restoration has the power to prompt genuine reforms. NY reformers need to organize (a convention) around a strong idea that has a good track record. Restoration of voting rights is known to restore the good order that results from practicing the democracy that we preach. Thinking in unity and public debate promotes energy and vision--what's now lacking. Restoration of voting is the KEY IDEA; the practical solution to all of the problems the public has "heard" about.

For the majority of captives, the passage of decades and the false promises inherent of the penal system promotes magical visions: "All I need to do is get out and everything will be swell!" Meanwhile the data establishes that, in terms of job opportunities, housing, etc., most of us are ill-prepared to confront the daunting challenges of being at liberty, after decades and decades of lockdown. The parole board has a dismal record when it comes to foreseeing what "inmate" is going to stab a waiter to death (like Jack Henry Abbott) and all it takes is one such incident to derail a liberal parole policy.


8. SENATE BILLS PENDING
From CURE-NY--

Please note and support the Bills cited below.
                                                                     Rudy Cypser
-
A merit time bill that includes lifers was sent to Sen. Montgomery's office last month. Right now it is being prepared by the Bill Drafting Committee and will be introduced by the Senator when it is completed.

Also, the Senate Bill, S2016 (see below), allowing discharge from parole consideration, even for lifers, is in committee and needs to move.  If you support it, you could send a letter to each of the Senators on the NYS Senate Corrections Committee. To find, visit the Senate website: www.senate.state.ny.us

Also, two other bills deserve support, both in different committees. One is S820, which would allow formerly incarcerated people to get barbering and cosmetology licenses. Last year this bill got through the senate and assembly, but was vetoed by Pataki when it got to his desk. It should make it through this time. It is in the Consumer Protection Committee now. (Letters of support to: Charles Fuschillo 915 LOB, Albany 12247)

The other one is S2956, which provides tax incentives to employers that hire formerly incarcerated individuals. That one is in the Investigations and Government Operations Committee. (Letters of support to: George Winner, 814 LOB, Albany 12247)

Senate Bill 2016

January 30, 2007
Introduced by Sens. MONTGOMERY, DUANE, KRUEGER

The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:

Section 1. Section 259-j of the executive law is REPEALED and a new section 259-j is added to read as follows:
§ 259-j. Discharge from parole and conditional release.

1. Where a determinate sentence is imposed for a violent felony offense as defined in section 70.02 of the penal law, if the board of parole is satisfied that an absolute discharge from parole or from conditional release is in the best interests of society, the board may grant such a discharge prior to the expiration of the full maximum term to any person who has been on unrevoked parole or conditional release for at least three consecutive years.

2. A merit termination of sentence may be granted to all other eligible persons after one year of presumptive release, parole or conditional release.

3. The division of parole must grant termination of sentence after three years of unrevoked parole to a person serving an indeterminate sentence for a class A felony offense defined in article two hundred twenty of the penal law, and must grant termination of sentence after two years of unrevoked parole to a person serving an indeterminate sentence for any other felony offense defined in article two hundred twenty or two hundred twenty-one of the penal law.

4. A discharge granted under this section shall constitute a termination of the sentence with respect to which it was granted. No such discharge shall be granted unless the board of parole is satisfied that the parolee, otherwise financially able to comply with an order of restitution and the payment of any mandatory surcharge previously imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction, has made a good faith effort to comply therewith.

5. § 2. This act shall take effect immediately.


9. THE SQUARE FETTER,  continued. This is part 2 in the serialization.
© Copyright by James E. Morse 2005

THE GUARDIAN’S PRAYER (Poem from Malus Chronos – A Novella about the Prison Industrial Organism)

Malus Chronos*, Lord Supreme
Of everything that binds,
Sandman of sepulchral dreams,
Lord of all archontic minds.

Your reign within thy leaping walls:
Bestial total institute,
Demarcates Reprisal’s Sprawl,
Fetters tightly cellblock brutes.

Once within thy iron cage,
Exposed to durance vile,
Their life becomes an empty page,
Ignorance their style.

—Malus Chronos makes brutes cower;
Makes them love the things they hate/
Lord Supreme of bread and power,
Thy bounty is my fate—

Malus Chronos, idol gold,
Horologist of all Bad Times,
For thee I wield this Sacred Pole
To expiate their brutish crimes.

The sound of keys in turning locks
Is music to thine ears;
The ticking of infernal clocks
Tapping out the endless years.

From iron box to yellow lines,
Back and forth they slink;
The grand design of feeble minds
That totter on the brink.

—Malus Chronos makes brutes cower;
Makes them love the things they hate/
Lord Supreme of Bread and Power,
Thy bounty is my fate—

*Greek—Bad Times

Copies of the hand crafted, illustrated book are available for $4 through Prison Action Network.


10. SUPPORT MEETINGS
Albany: PFNY meeting at 7:00 pm every Monday at the Women’s Bldg, 79 Central Avenue. Please call ahead: Alison 518 453 6659

Buffalo: Groups for men and women meet separately on Thursdays, from 5:30-6:30pm at GROUP Ministries, Inc., 1333 Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo. These programs are FREE and confidential. For more information, call 716-539-1844.

Poughkeepsie: PFNY Support Group Room 306 of the Main Building of Family Partnership at 29 North Hamilton St. Poughkeepsie, NY. Meetings will be held on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month at 7pm.
The Citizens for Restorative Justice The Citizens for Restorative Justice meet the first Monday of the month, 6:30 to 8:00. The location changes so call ahead of time, 845-464-4736.

Schenectady: PFNY meeting at 7pm on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of every month at First United Methodist Church - 603 State Street - entrance on Chapel Street - behind MVP Building.  Jeanette: 518 280 0354 anytime after 6pm.

Prison Families of New York has a new website, created to assist families with incarcerated individuals in New York State Correctional Facilities.  There is information on support groups, policy recommendations, children of prisoners issues, visiting conditions, ride lists, and much more.  Please visit the website and pass it on to others you may feel would most benefit from it. www.prisonfamiliesofnewyork.org

11. TELEPHIONE JUSTICE CAMPAIGN WINS SECOND VICTORY!
Families Win Victory In Court Of Appeals On Prison Telephone Challenge
High Court Allows Challenge to "Unlegislated Tax" on Poor Families to Move Forward

Albany, NY, February 20, 2007 - Today the Court of Appeals ruled that a constitutional challenge brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of New York family members who pay a grossly inflated rate to receive phone calls from their loved ones in state prisons must be allowed to move forward.

The lawsuit, Walton v. NYSDOCS and MCI, seeks an order prohibiting the State and MCI from charging exorbitant rates to the family members of prisoners to finance a 57.5% kickback to the State and money damages for the recipients of those calls.  MCI charges these family members a 630% markup over regular consumer rates to receive a collect call from their loved ones, the only way possible to speak with them. The case was dismissed in 2004 by Judge George Ceresia of the Supreme Court of New York, Albany County, citing issues of timeliness and the Appellate Division affirmed that dismissal in 2006.

The Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, agreed to hear the case in July of 2006, and reversed the lower courts' decisions. In its opinion, the Court of Appeals held that the lower courts erred in dismissing plaintiffs' constitutional claims as untimely.  The Court held today that plaintiffs acted reasonably in bringing their complaints to the Public Service Commission, the administrative body that regulates telephone rates, before bringing the case in State Court.    

"We are thrilled with the Court's ruling" said Rachel Meeropol, the attorney handling the case for the Center for Constitutional Rights. "The family members and friends of prisoners in New York State have sought a ruling on the constitutionality of New York's prison telephone system for years. That day is now in sight."

Judge Pigott wrote the opinion for the Court.  Judge Smith wrote a concurring opinion in which he agreed that plaintiffs' claims should move forward, but acknowledged that this decision was "influenced" by the fact that plaintiffs raised "substantial" constitutional claims.  Judge Read dissented. 

The Court remanded the case back to the Supreme Court, to rule on whether plaintiffs' Constitutional claims state a cause of action.


12. TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS
From Buffalo:
VAN SERVICE TO WESTERN NY PRISONS: Convenient Transportation Services  weekend (Saturday and Sunday) trips to Attica, Albion, Wende, Orleans, Wyoming, Groveland, Livingston (Saturday only), Lakeview, Collins, and Gowanda. The cost is $40-$50 for adults and $10 for children age 12 and younger requiring a seat. For more information call 716-605-3179.

From the Capital District:
Rides are offered by volunteers of the First Unitarian Universalist Society’s Justice Committee on weekdays only. Please contact us at 518 253-7533 if you need a ride.

From Albany/Troy:
The NEST prison shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow Facilities on Sat, March 3 ($30 adults, $20 children), and the Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson Correctional Facilities on Sat, March 10, and Sun., March 25 ($15  adults and $10 children), leaving Oakwood Ave Presbyt. Church parking lot, Troy at 7 AM, and Albany Greyhound Bus station at 7:15. Trip to the Utica Hub (Midstate, Marcy, Mohawk, Oneida) Sat, March 17 leaving shortly after 5 AM ($40 adults, $25 children). Call for reservations and information: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.



13. WHAT WE NEED
by Bryce "Sonny" Rudert

For me, the highlights of the February 15th symposium in NYC sponsored by the NY City Bar Association entitled, "Restoring Fairness to Parole." were as follows:

 1) The detailed description of ongoing parole board illegalities and abuses described by Vernon Manley, who until very recently served as an active parole commissioner. The abuses and illegalities Manley described include the absence of any type of formal training for parole commissioners, himself admittedly included, and his further admission that more often than not only one member of each parole board panel is actually participating in the interview; the others are instead thumbing through the folders of upcoming candidates--this "double abuse" indicates that the parole candidate in the hearing is harmed by the failure of board members to participate in the hearing as compelled by law and the scheduled candidates for upcoming hearings are also harmed, as Manley stated that this last-minute folder browsing is how the parole boards interpret the "meaningful review" of a parole candidate's folder prior to the hearing itself;

2) Judge Sheridan's call for Judicial oversight of the parole boards to ensure that they follow the existing mandates of law;

3) My own opportunity to briefly address the room, commend Judge Sheridan for the brave, groundbreaking integrity exhibited in his noteworthy Article 78 decisions and agree with his assessment, however further noting the need for immediate emergency relief for aging prisoners like Antonio Calderone, John Flynn and Carlos Lozada who have each already served over 30 years due to repeated unfair parole denials which are solely predicated upon their crimes of conviction.

Prior to this symposium, the most notable news that I'd encountered in the press regarding correctional policy in New York State was the fact that the upstate Republican prison-town power brokers were up in arms at the mere mention that Governor Spitzer wants an exploratory committee to determine if our taxpaying public might not be better served by shutting down several of this state's 70 existing prisons.
Just after this event, several of us shared the fact that the parole boards are by and large continuing exactly where they left off with the same old unfair and illegal practices of the previous Pataki administration (no doubt, surely continuing as well to engage in exactly the same serious illegalities and abuses described by Vernon Manley). Notably, Dalton Diaz, Earl Crutchfield and Len McRae were all denied parole (as Dalton and Earl had each previously been) based upon the "nature of the crime," despite folders brimming with compelling evidence of their rehabilitation over the course of their decades in prison, and also despite the large and vocal support of family, friends, and even former strangers--those men and women of goodwill and high moral integrity all across our state--who sent many letters in support of their parole.

And so we find ourselves asking: What do we need?

A) Based upon Vernon Manley's own detailed testimony before a roomful of jurists and officers of the court, as well as the public-at-large, we need the New York State Legislature to consider the ramifications of Manley's testimony and hold investigative hearings into the Division of Parole's repeated and ongoing failure to adhere to the clearly legislated statutory criteria which governs the parole process.

  B) Based upon Judge Sheridan's call for judicial oversight of the parole process, as well as the increasingly numerous court decisions now echoing this sentiment, we need this state's higher courts to designate a judicial review committee to oversee the entire parole process.

C) Further, based upon the increasingly growing number of aging prisoners repeatedly unjustly denied parole for offense related factors, we need special and immediate emergency relief that will put these men and women on the front of the list to be released to parole supervision.

D) Based upon upstate New York's ill conceived and misdeveloped prison-based economy, we need genuine, open-forum, public debate: Should the primary role of corrections in New York State be the development and provision of economic stability for its distressed and changing rural communities? Here, I would submit  that whenever the economic success of one sector of society is directly contingent upon the failed social policies of another, there is in place a recipe for disaster which perpetuates rather than "corrects" the social ills that it was created to address.

E) Based upon our collective experience with the issues at hand and the numerous misconceptions that fuel the fear that stokes the engines of the prison-based economy,  we on the outside need to collectively step up our efforts to educate the public. We must also ensure that we keep the light shining Inside and step up our letter-writing efforts as well, not only voicing our support for community-ready parole candidates but also demonstrating our disgust and outrage whenever the parole boards completely disregard our support and instead unfairly deny parole to the worthy.

F) Lastly, based upon all of our collective wisdom, we have learned that the reward for complacency is always one thing only: more of the same. And so, to those still on the Inside: remember that creativity is your greatest resource. We must all invent new and creative ways to demonstrate that you are not going to be a willing participant in your continued unjust oppression--while also drawing positive attention to the continuing struggle for fairness and equity. Here, we must all remember that nothing of any lasting import was ever accomplished in any significant battle against systemic oppression without hard work, unity, dedication, struggle, sacrifice, and more hard work.      Peace.


14. WORDS FROM INSIDE
I would like to share these Words of Wisdom, “Sending Out Love! Builds Bridges.” Joe Rudd 83A7286

I am proud to announce as of January of this year 2007, we have officially started a Lifers and Long Termers Organization here at Arthur Kill Prison. We are waiting for permission and approval to use the GOVERNMENTAL EDUCATION ORGANIZATION (G.E.O.) HONORABLE NAME.

We already proudly had our first guest speaker, the Honorable Charlie Sullivan, founder of International C.U.R.E. (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants) in Washington, DC. He stopped at the prison on his way to the United Nations, where he spoke for 2 days along with Rudy and Betty Cypser from C.U.R.E. NY. We will do our best here at Arthur Kill to follow in the Honorable Footsteps of G.E.O. and the Otisville Lifers Group.

Love! Prayers and Best! Best! Wishes to All, Your Good Friend, Joe Rudd

Read now!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

From the Editor:

I write this to share my experience attending the following discussion. If you were there and have something to add or correct, please send to prisonaction@hotmail.com, and I will update the report below.

The discussion, "Restoring Fairness to Parole," which was held at the House of the Association on West 44th Street in NYC on the evening of February 15th and sponsored by the New York Bar Association, was interesting but did not provide any new (to me) information about the topic.

John Caher, staff writer for the New York Law Journal,  spoke about how he first became aware of the unfair parole policy by covering the Second Circuit Court and hearing the ever increasing multitude of  parole appeals, all saying essentially the exact same thing, and then hearing Judge Sheridan's ruling in the ground-breaking Chan decision, in which he cited a pattern of unfair decisions that suggested the parole board had clearly "gotten the message" from the Pataki administration, and ruled in favor of a  re-hearing for Mr. Chan, further directing the board to base its decision on permissable factors only and to take into consideration Mr. Chan's considerable rehabilitative accomplishments in prison. At the time, this fair and brave decision was a lone voice in the wilderness. 

Judge Sheridan was, in fact, also in attendance this evening and he spoke about this clearly emergent pattern of illegal parole decisions, and the fact that the parole boards were in essence duplicating the judges' role in the sentencing process while disregarding their intent and usurping their authority as well. Besides the fact that this blatant abuse was way outside the bounds of their legal discretionary authority, Judge Sheridan also pointed out that the parole commissioners lacked the necessary training to perform such judicial/sentencing functions.  He mentioned that there is nothing in the law that says the "nature" or inherent "seriousness" of any crime precludes parole release (as the board in Chan had held). 

Vernon Manley, a former parole commissioner who sat on many parole boards, gave an insider's view of the entire dysfunctional parole mess of the last 12 years, which totally supported our very worst suspicions of what we'd already witnessed from our outsider's perspective: The boards get very little training; and, out of the two or three sitting members at any given parole hearing, those who are not asking the interview questions are skimming through the file of the next case, paying little if any attention to the parole candidate in front of them.  He also complained about the rude, bordering on abusive, manner in which many board members address parole candidates.

Eve Rosahn, Supervising Attorney of the Legal Aid Society's Parole Revocation Defense Unit which provides representation for people whose parole has been revoked, spoke about the many people paroled to situations that are actually a set-up for failure, such as the NYC shelters, where for people with substance abuse issues, it is almost impossible to not fall back into addiction and a related criminal life style.  She mentioned that Governor Spitzer had amended the laws that govern parole violation appeals, and now instead of holding people at Rikers Island, they are sent back upstate to wait for their hearing (yet they must legally still be presumed innocent unless or until a final hearing adjudicates otherwise), and the revocation hearings themselves are now conducted BY VIDEO!!

Al O'Conner, a defense lawyer for the NYS Defenders Association, pointed out that this present administration must be held accountable for fair parole policies, that judicial oversight should be ennacted to ensure compliance with the legislative criteria--and Judge Sheridan strongly concurred with this assessment.
        
William Eric (EZ) Waters,  who came before three parole boards, spoke about his own experiences as a jailhouse lawyer and his personal experiences at the parole hearings.  Unfortuantely, because of time limitations he never mentioned what the Osbourne Association (which he represents) is presently doing in the area of parole reform. 

 At the conclusion of the guests' presentations there was a period of questions, and many in the audience who were either on parole or who were there to get info for others facing a parole hearing soon, asked very good questions and made some poignent statements (I had the sense that although the people on the panel were all very enthusiastic about reforming parole practices, many of them are blind to the racism that pervades their own speech and actions, even in the context of this meeting, and several comments pointed to that fact).

The morning discussion I also attended, "Criminal Justice in the Spitzer Era,"  presented by the Center for NY City Affairs, Milano The New School of Management and Urban Policy and The Correctional Association of NY had some interesting bits of information, especially for those of us wondering what we can do to bring about the much needed positive changes in policy.  Jo Ann Page, President of the Fortune Society, was in the audience and told us that there are presently several things that Governor Spitzer can do with a stroke of the pen.  I believe we should use our pens to put pressure on him to do these things:

1. Make Medicaid enrollment possible before release, so that there is no gap in medical coverage.  In many cases, Medicaid would be suspended upon incarceration, not terminated, and just prior to release it would be reinstated.

2. Provide mandatory government-issued ID immediately upon release.

3. Exempt indigent people from the fees they must pay for fines, fees, surcharges, etc. involved in their incarceration and parole.

4. Give the vote to parolees.

5. Require the NYS Dept of Health to monitor DOCS medical care.

* Vernon Manley in the evening session suggested restoring Work Release programs to presently ineligable prisoners as another stroke of the pen action that could immediately be taken by Governor Spitzer.

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